Continuing Tales

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 17 of 27

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Snape and Hermione continued to talk, picking their way through their evening meal and then moving back to their customary seats in front of the fireplace. They both agreed that there was a good chance Harry had been kidnapped and was somewhere in Finbar's house. Hermione had never believed that he had willingly left the scene of Pettigrew's death in London. She was convinced that he had been taken at that point, and Snape concurred. It didn't necessarily mean that he was being hidden in Ireland, but the tray Finbar had prepared and the Disapparition shield on the house were suggestive.

The difficulty was in getting into the house to find out. Hermione was for calling in the Aurors without delay, but Snape disagreed, arguing that the Aurors were likely to bungle the job, as they had in London, putting Harry at too much risk if he was in the house.

Hermione paced in front of the fireplace. "It's so frustrating to think that Harry could be just two miles from here, and we can't do anything about it!"

"I agree," Snape said wearily. "And the longer we wait, the more likely it is that he'll either be moved or the potion will be administered."

"We need to watch the house. If he does leave, he'll have to go outside to Disapparate, and we'll see him."

"It's a long shot, but it probably is the best we can do," Snape agreed. "Unfortunately, there's no single vantage point from which to watch both the front and back of the house. I'll have to move back and forth between them, staying out of sight the entire time. I can use the invisibility cloak again, I suppose. I don't dare cast any warning spells for fear of interfering with the wards he already has in place."

"I'll take one door."

"No. You won't."

"Yes. I will." Hermione gave her Professor a fierce look. "I did not come along to stay here and chase brooms back into the broom closet. You need a second pair of eyes, and you refuse to call in the Aurors. I'm going with you."

"It's too dangerous," he snapped. "Look at what happened to me today." He gestured to his leg.

"What happened to you might not have happened if you'd had the sense to take me with you in the first place. Don't they teach wizards about the buddy system?"

"We're not going in swimming or for a pleasant hike in the woods, Miss Granger. You and I had an agreement that your life would not be placed at risk. I can't be responsible for keeping you safe and finding Potter."

"Damn you!" she exclaimed, surprising them both. "Would you please make up your mind? You trusted me with books about Dark Magic. You trusted me to perform advanced healing spells on your own leg. Now you're acting like I'm some first year who doesn't know a wand from a tree branch! I'm in my final year at the head of my class, Professor, and I've faced danger before – quite a few times, actually – and managed to survive it. I, for one, don't attribute that to sheer good luck. I think it's just possible that I'm smart enough and powerful enough to actually make you an able assistant if you'd have the sense to let me help you. I don't care what I said back in the Leaky Cauldron that morning. If you're going to that house looking for Harry, then I'm going with you."

She stood before him with her hands on her hips, and he looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Are you finished?"

"That depends on what you have to say."

Snape exhaled and muttered something under his breath that she couldn't quite make out. "How do you propose we both stay concealed with only one invisibility cloak between us?"

She bit her lip for a minute, thinking. "Is there nothing around the house – no shrubbery or anything of that sort?"

"Very little. There's the wrought iron fence I've already mentioned, and we'll have to get inside it to be safe from the various creatures that live in the forest. There are some shrubs right around the house, but they're neither high enough nor dense enough to conceal a man of my size – or a woman of yours, for that matter."

She raised her eyebrows suddenly as a thought occurred. "What if…?" She closed her eyes, concentrated, and transformed into the small brown terrier. When she opened her eyes again, Snape looked huge, along with everything else in the room. She hadn't spent enough time in her Animagus form to become entirely comfortable with the altered proportions. She was approximately the size of one of Snape's boots – a fact that made her a little nervous as she stared at a scuffed black sole. She sat down and cocked her head at him, wishing for some way to brush the hair out of her eyes. She didn't think he looked angry; to the contrary, he seemed amused and frankly surprised. She stood up again – she'd decided that might have been her mistake in her previous landings – and transformed back into her human form, saving herself a world of humiliation by managing to stay on her feet for the first time.

"Well?" she asked.

"Congratulations, Miss Granger," he drawled. "It took you six years, but you've officially succeeded in redefining the words 'teacher's pet'."

"You know what I mean, Professor," she said, exasperated. "You could use the cloak, and I'd be small enough to remain concealed. Even if I were discovered, I could pretend to be a stray."

He snorted. "Any 'stray' of that size would be a snack for one of the forest creatures long before it made it to Finbar's cottage. However, you probably could conceal yourself in that ridiculous form, and you'd be small enough that I could Apparate to the clearing with you in my arms without either of us getting splinched. I don't consider myself a coward, but I wasn't relishing the thought of walking two miles through those woods."

"Then you'll let me go?"

"I wasn't under the impression that I had a choice," he said sarcastically.

"You don't."

"Then yes, I'll let you go. It would be a shame to waste all that Gryffindor foolhardiness."

"Good. I'll get my wand."

"Wait," he said, holding up a hand. "We're not going tonight."

"Why not? There's no time to lose. We should be there already, keeping watch."

"Look outside," he said, pointing out toward the pond, where the last traces of a glorious sunset were reflected in its calm surface. "It's dark, or nearly so. The clearing is a half-mile from the house, and we'd have to walk that distance in the dark. It would be insanity to attempt it."

"I've been in the Forbidden Forest at night before. Harry's done it several times," she argued.

"We're of no use to Potter if we're dead," he said firmly. "We'll go at first light tomorrow."

Hermione stamped her foot and made a sound of frustration, causing Snape to raise an eyebrow.

"Now who's throwing a temper tantrum, Miss Granger? And you wonder why I treat you like a child."

"I am not throwing a temper tantrum," she snapped. "I just don't know how you can sit there so calmly, not doing anything. Oh I wish Ron were here! He'd go with me without a second thought."

"Which is precisely why he's dead, and I'm alive," Snape answered coldly.

She recoiled as if she'd been slapped. "That was beneath even you," she said, and then she felt the tears sting her eyes and she walked quickly away from him, out the front door.


It was the first time she'd left the house all day, and she gulped the fresh night air, trying to calm herself, trying not to cry. She headed for the pond and settled on the grass near the tranquil water. The sky was nearly dark, but enough light shone from the windows of the house for her to be able to make out her surroundings. She glanced back at the house and smiled through the tears when she saw a staid and proper English country cottage, with narrow windows and a slate roof.

Dumbledore was certainly a man of imagination.

She hugged her legs to her, propping her chin on her knees. Where are you, Harry? The thought circled her brain repeatedly, irritating her with its utter pointlessness - and because as pointless as it was, there was nothing more constructive that she could be doing.

She had been outside for perhaps fifteen minutes when she heard the cottage door open and glanced up. Snape approached with a glass of wine in each hand, stopping at the edge of the patio. "Am I interrupting?"

"No." She reached out and accepted the glass he held out to her, surprised that he had asked and even more surprised that he had come. "Thank you."

He sat down in one of the chairs on the patio, a few feet away from her. His voice broke the silence, slipping around her and mingling with the gentle night air. "You know that even if we find him, it may be too late."

She felt the tears threatening again. "The antidote…"

"Is a long shot at best. If Pettigrew's blood was the final ingredient needed…well..."

She glared at him. It was easier to be angry. "Did you come out here just to tell me that?"

"No." Just the one word. She looked at him, but he didn't elaborate, and eventually she turned back toward the pond, taking a sip of her wine.

"You were right." The soft words startled her, but she didn't turn around. "What I said was…unconscionable."

She looked at him then and nodded, accepting what for him passed as an apology. "You know, I've been so busy these last few days, I haven't thought about him much. Sometimes I even forget for a while that he's gone. I'll think of something I need to tell him the next time I see him. And then I remember suddenly, and it's like it just happened all over again and I feel guilty for ever letting myself forget."

"You have to let yourself forget, some of the time. You'll never completely forget, of course, but if you're going to keep moving, keep functioning, you have to put the grief away…take it out when it's convenient rather than letting it ambush you."

"You sound as though you speak from experience."

"I do." He wasn't sure why he answered her, but at that moment he felt firmly planted in his chair, seduced into conversation by the peaceful night. There was enough light to see, but the world seemed to be rendered in black and white. It made them seem not quite themselves, and for a few minutes he allowed himself to forget that he was a teacher and she was a student, and that Severus Snape didn't talk about such things to anyone anyway. "My best friend from my own school days died earlier this summer."

"I'm sorry," she said, turning to face him then. "Can I ask…?"

He sighed and leaned his head back, staring up at the stars. "I killed him," he said softly. "He was an evil man, and he'd have killed me if I hadn't gotten off the first curse. He wasn't the boy I'd grown up with anymore…or maybe I'm the one that changed. It doesn't really matter, I suppose. My grief is for the boy, not for the man."

"Mine is for the boy who didn't get to be a man," she said, her voice catching just a little. "I think he'd have made a good one."

"I think you're probably right."

"Do you ever wonder what things would have been like if it hadn't been for Voldemort?"

"I find such musings to be an exercise in futility," he answered with a sigh.

"That's not exactly a 'no' though, is it?" she observed. "What would you have done? Do you think you'd be teaching now?"

He couldn't be sure if it was the wine, the darkness, or the fact that she was looking away from him, out toward the water, but something inspired his continued honesty. "No. I wouldn't be teaching. I'm at Hogwarts because of my service to Dumbledore in the war against Voldemort and for no other reason."

"What would you have liked to do instead?"

"Research, probably. That's what I had in mind when I apprenticed. Maybe taking on an apprentice of my own at some point. I wouldn't mind teaching someone who had a genuine interest in my subject, but most of your fellow students do not fall into that category."

"No. I suppose they don't." She glanced at him again. "Is that why you teach the way you do?"

He chuckled. "Is that an oblique way of saying I'm cruel and nasty?"

"I could be more direct, if you'd prefer."

"I'm sure you could. To answer your question…my teaching style probably does stem from years of frustration in a job for which I am temperamentally unsuited. However, even in different circumstances, I doubt I'd be..."

"Warm and fuzzy?" she ventured.

"I think not," he said with obvious distaste.

She laughed. "No, I can't see that, somehow."

"What about you? Thanks to your relationship with Potter, your school years have hardly been normal."

"I'm not sure I can answer that until I get a little farther away from it," she answered. "But I think my priorities are different than they would have been otherwise. I think if it hadn't been for Voldemort, I could easily have finished Hogwarts thinking that things like good marks and being Head Girl were all that mattered. I know better now."

"As annoying as you were in those days, I wish you'd been allowed that innocence a while longer," Snape said.

"You really do have a flair for balancing kindness with insult," she noted, but she was amused rather than perturbed. "But for what it's worth, I agree on both counts."

He smiled, and though she couldn't see it in the darkness she could hear it in his voice. "You've clearly spent too much time with me. You're catching on to my methods."

"Afraid you'll lose your ability to intimidate me?"

"Given your display inside, I think it's obvious that I already have."

"Ah, well. I'm just one of many students, Professor. Soon you'll have a whole new batch of first years to terrify."

"'Tis the only thing that keeps me going," he said lightly.

She giggled and then clapped her hand over her mouth. "Sorry. Forgot how you feel about that."

"Hmm. Perhaps I could relax the rule on giggling, as long as we remain absolutely clear on the need for you to observe silence at the breakfast table."

She laughed again and sipped from her glass. How had he taken her from tears to laughter so quickly? She felt a flash of the same feeling she had experienced when they were bent over the potions books earlier that day, only now they weren't talking about potions or anything related to schoolwork. They were just…talking…and laughing…and even sitting in comfortable silence, helping one another avoid reality for a few quiet minutes.

She glanced over at him; he was sitting with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. She couldn't make out specific features, just a sharp profile etched against the light of the windows. She saw him raise his glass to his lips, and as he drank he seemed to relax further, leaning his head back against his chair.

"You're staring at me, Miss Granger."



She dressed in Muggle clothing the next morning, and then she carefully pulled the front portion of her hair back into an elastic. She wanted to try to focus on the ponytail during her transformation to see if she could incorporate it into her Animagus form. Hair in her eyes drove her wild, and she was likely going to be a dog for most of the day. Her other option – asking Snape to do something about it once she'd transformed – didn't appeal in the slightest. She noted again the charm on the mirror and wondered exactly what it was. It certainly boosted the ego – she looked better than anyone had a right to look first thing in the morning, and she knew it must be magical illusion rather than reality.

She made her way down the stairs, surprised to find that Snape was already up and drinking coffee, though still in his dressing gown. He growled something indistinguishable, and she took it as a warning and passed him silently on her way to the kitchen. She helped herself to fruit and juice and then joined him at the table, unable to resist wishing him a cheerful "good morning."

Another growl, and he scraped his chair back sharply and left to refill his coffee cup.

He had regained the capacity for speech by the time he returned and got right down to business. "Are you ready for this?"

"Absolutely. I still wish we'd gone last night."

"You might feel differently once you've walked through the forest. I'm going to try to Apparate a little closer to the property today and hope we don't wind up in a tree. We'll still have to walk some little distance, however. Be sure you tuck your wand in your sleeve before you transform. You might need to access it in a hurry."

"I thought of that already," she said, indicating her long-sleeved shirt. "I wonder if Professor Dumbledore heard anything from the Ministry about me using my wand yesterday to heal your leg."

"Hang the Ministry. If you need your wand today, you're to use it without a second thought."

She nodded. "Are you going to eat breakfast?"

"Yes, and then we'll need to pack some food to take with us." He reached for his wand and summoned their morning meal from Hogwarts, helping himself to a large serving. "Eat something. It may be a while before you get the chance again."

She fixed a plate obediently but picked at the food, feeling anxious to get on with their day. "Professor?"


"What's the charm on the mirrors here? I don't recognize it."

Snape rolled his eyes. "It's one of Albus's own creations. The mirrors show you your reflection as those around you see you, rather than as you see yourself. The Headmaster seems to think that's useful information. I can't for the life of me imagine why."

Hermione was too surprised by his answer to think to ask what he saw when he looked in the mirror.


Snape finished his breakfast and left Hermione to pack them some food while he readied himself for the day. He dressed in close-fitting Muggle clothing that would allow freedom of motion and wouldn't bunch up under the invisibility cloak and then tucked his wand into a pocket hidden in the seam of his jeans. In the bathroom, he performed his brief morning toilette, and it wasn't until he went to pull his own hair back out of his face that he realized his reflection had changed. He might not have noticed it at all had the girl not mentioned the mirrors at the table just a few minutes before. When he had been at the cottage the first time in the presence of his colleagues, his reflection had looked much as it did in his own mirror back in his rooms at Hogwarts. He remembered Dumbledore and Flitwick discussing the charm, but it hadn't particularly impressed him at the time.

He had been surprised, then, his first day here with the Granger girl, to note that his reflection was more menacing than normal, his appearance more intimidating. There was a hint of cruelty around the eyes and harsh scowl lines around his mouth. Apparently the mirror charm worked after all, and he found he rather liked it. He cared little for his personal appearance anyway, and he enjoyed knowing that he still had the power to frighten Hogwarts' Head Girl.

Today, however, he found that the touches of menace had disappeared and been replaced by a look of…good humour?

Surely not.

He leaned in to examine his face more closely. He looked pleasant, damn it, and almost happy.

The girl saw him like that? After one conversation over a glass of wine? Clearly damage control was in order, but he didn't have time to deal with it just then. He averted his gaze from the mirror as he pulled his hair back and secured it at the nape of his neck. The day was going to be trying enough without worrying about whether Hermione Granger had been deluded into thinking he was kind.

He found her waiting in the solarium, her knapsack in one hand and the invisibility cloak in the other.

"Wand?" he asked.

"Right here." She handed him the knapsack and cloak and slid her wand into her sleeve. "Are we ready?"

"Go ahead."

He watched as she focussed her attention on her transformation. Obviously it hadn't become effortless yet, as it was for long-time Animagi like McGonagall. It went as smoothly as it had the evening before, however, and seconds later he was looking down at a miniature terrier with – oh, how revolting – a small ponytail in her hair. It – she – looked up at him with all the bright-eyed cheerfulness that so annoyed him at the breakfast table. It annoyed him even more coming from a small brown dust mop.

He stuffed the invisibility cloak in the knapsack and reached down to pick her up. He paused halfway there in a rare moment of indecision. This was a student, after all, and given her current size and the size of his hands, he'd be pretty much touching her…well, everywhere. He'd hated Transfiguration classes and had done his best to forget what he'd ever known about the Animagus transformation. He had no idea what it would feel like for Hermione, but for him it felt damned awkward. She wasn't any bigger than a cat…maybe he could pick her up by the scruff of the neck?

Something told him she wouldn't go for that.

She whined a little, giving him a curious look.

Bloody hell. He reached for her again and wrapped his thumb and two fingers of each hand around her tiny ribcage, just under the armpits – or what would have been armpits if she'd had arms. He had no idea what dogs called that particular part of their anatomy and didn't care. He held her as far away from his body as he possibly could, her hind legs twisting in midair.


Apparently she didn't care for that either.

He winced a little as he pulled her closer, finally tucking her securely in the crook of one arm. He was grateful that the windows in the solarium prevented the hanging of any mirrors. He had no desire to see himself cuddling a little froufrou scrap of a dog and, thanks to Dumbledore's idea of a useful charm, looking happy about it. He had been happier being chased by the Graphorn.

With a sigh of disgust, he picked up the knapsack and Disapparated.


They managed to avoid landing in a tree, and even in her canine form, Hermione enjoyed her first experience with Apparition and fully appreciated for the first time how trying it must have been for Snape to have to use the Floo while travelling with her. Apparition was instantaneous and carried none of the unpleasant side effects of Portkeys and the Floo network. She couldn't wait to get her license.

He put her down as soon as they landed, and she trotted alongside him as he strode through the woods toward Finbar's house. In case of danger, she would be able to transform and have her wand out in an instant, but as long as it wasn't necessary, she wanted to take the time to get used to her Animagus form. She was delighted with the results of the ponytail. With the hair out of her eyes, her vision was clear for the first time - though seeing the world in black and white took a bit of getting used to. She glanced up at Snape, clad in black jeans and a black shirt, and realized that he looked precisely the same in black and white as he did in colour.

What an odd thought.

Within minutes, she was exhausted by the effort of keeping up with his much longer legs, and finally let out a sharp bark, glaring at him as best she could from her inferior vantage point. He seemed to get the message and slowed down slightly, but as she caught up to his legs she sniffed at him a little, catching an unfamiliar scent.


Snape was afraid. She knew it with the same degree of conviction that she knew her own name. It was then that she realized for the first time that part of the beauty of the Animagus transformation was that a human brain was able to fully coexist with an animal brain. Heretofore, she had only considered the advantages of being able to travel incognito. Now she realized that she had not only the body of a dog but the senses and the instinct of one too. Hermione Granger would never have been able to smell fear, and even if she had, she wouldn't have been able to identify the scent. But in her Animagus form, the canine part of her brain had a heightened sensitivity to Snape's emotions, and the human part didn't like the fact that he was afraid one little bit.

She turned her heightened senses to the forest surrounding them, hoping that she would be able to forewarn him of any approaching threat. She was eye level with a group of pixies, but a growl seemed sufficient to warn them off. She caught sight of quite a few gnomes and once thought she saw a Leprechaun, but she saw nothing very frightening. Apparently Snape had been having a particularly bad run of luck the previous day, and when she got a sudden mental image of him falling out of a tree, she was inclined to giggle, had her larynx been capable of performing such an act. The impulse soon passed, and then they were approaching a clearing. From the edge of the wood she caught sight of the wrought iron fence he had described.

He skirted around to the side of the house, where there was only one small window and presumably the least chance of being seen, and then he emerged from the trees with her close at his heels and began countering the wards he had discovered the previous day. It went much more quickly now that he knew which ones they were and he wasn't having to perform complicated testing charms, and within ten minutes he seemed satisfied that it was safe to climb the fence.

He glanced down at her thoughtfully. "I'm sorry, Miss Granger, but I think there's only one safe way to do this," he said in a hushed voice. He reached for her, again lifting her just behind her front legs, and she felt slightly panicked as her feet lost contact with the earth. He didn't dangle her in mid-air again, thank goodness, but instead opened the flap of the knapsack and withdrew the invisibility cloak before tucking her inside the bag.

She was at first distracted by the overpowering smell of the food she had packed – which hadn't smelled nearly as tempting when she had packed it. The food was quickly forgotten, however, in her discomfort at being squashed into the dark canvas bag and slung over his shoulder. She could feel his back through the knapsack and pressed closer to him, finding security in the solid wall of warmth. She lurched and swayed – she guessed he was climbing the fence - and then came the sense of falling, and she jostled painfully against his shoulder blade as he landed on the ground.

"Sorry," he whispered. "I'm going to leave you in there until we get to the shrubbery."

More gentle swaying as he walked toward the house. She heard the rasp of branches as he insinuated himself into the bushes, and then he pulled the bag from his shoulder and opened the flap to release her. She jumped out of the bag and shook herself from head to toe. He was crouched down, and a glance told her that the shimmering folds of the invisibility cloak covered them both.

"I'll take the back door," he said, his voice barely audible, even to her sensitive ears. "You go around front. Stay close to the house, well in the shrubbery, and there should be no danger of you being seen."

She nodded and then looked to him for confirmation of which way to go. The ride in the knapsack had been disorienting, to say the least.

"It's that way," he whispered, pointing. "You know, it occurs to me that I rather prefer you this way. You can't argue or ask annoying questions."

In a flash, she nipped at his hand with sharp teeth, causing him to snatch his fingers away with a whispered curse. "Remind me to take points for that once term begins."

She dropped to her belly and cautiously emerged from the shelter of the invisibility cloak, staying close to the house, as he had advised. She glanced back and saw the slight swaying of the bushes as he made his way toward the back of the house, and then she stood up – really there was little difference between standing and lying down – and walked the rest of the way to the front corner.

Two hours later, she had decided that being a dog – and a spy – was a terribly dull business. She would have given anything for a book to read, a paper to write…something to pass the time. She devoted a few minutes to practicing dog behaviour – turning in circles, scratching behind one ear – but really, that was easily mastered and very close to instinctive in her present form. She had quickly gotten used to the black and white vision and to the altered proportions of everything and felt that if only she could have held a book in her front paws, she'd have been content to remain in her Animagus form for days on end.

Until a new consideration began to make itself known.

She'd had several glasses of pumpkin juice at breakfast, and she was beginning to need to do something about it. She didn't know why the idea of relieving herself in the manner of dogs everywhere was uncomfortable; she seemed to have acclimated to other aspects of being a dog with very little trouble. She remembered a long-ago camping trip with some friends, however. She had been shocked to realize that "camping" meant doing without a loo, and her friends had laughed and teased her until finally she had given in and found a secluded place in which to squat.

That had been the trip when she had learned of her violent allergy to poison ivy.

Perhaps that memory was interfering with her canine instincts now, but whatever the reason, she fought the urge as long as she could. Finally, she couldn't fight it anymore, and she gave herself over to the contemplation of logistics. She was happy with her current vantage point from the corner, so she certainly didn't want to use it as a loo. She decided she'd move farther around to the front of the house, which had the duel advantage of taking her a few yards away from her corner and being thoroughly out of Snape's line of vision.

She went as far as the front steps and found a spot close to the house but still completely hidden by the bushes – and with no poison ivy anywhere in sight. Having made up her mind that the thing had to be done, her canine instinct took over and it was done quickly, bringing a great deal of relief. Afterwards there was a certain damp feeling to her fur, but she shook herself and tried to put it out of her mind.

She was on her way back to her corner when she noticed several small ventilation grates along the foundation of the house. They were old and rusted, and as she stopped to examine one more closely, she realized that it had nearly rusted out. She pressed against it with a paw and felt it give a little, and she quickly withdrew her paw lest she knock it out completely and make a noise that would give her away. She was about to move on when her sensitive nose caught a whiff of…something. She paused and pressed her nose between the metal bars. She smelt a mixture of food…and waste…and human! The dog portion of her brain would have been sure even if she hadn't been in such close proximity to Snape that morning, but having experienced Snape's scent, she knew that what she was smelling was a person somewhere in the basement of that house.

She made her way back along the side of the house in search of Snape. She caught his scent near the corner opposite hers, and knew that he was close. She got perhaps six feet closer before his arm snaked out of the invisibility cloak and swept her underneath it.

She transformed immediately and landed practically in his lap, their limbs tangled awkwardly in the close confines of the cloak.

"Sorry," she whispered. "I haven't quite mastered that yet."

"Obviously," he replied, moving to put still more space between them. "What happened? Why are you here?"

"I went around the front of the house and found a loose grate leading down into the basement. There's someone down there, Professor. It has to be Harry!"

"How do you know?"

"I could…uh…I could smell him," she said. "In my Animagus form. I could smell a person down there."

"It could just be Finbar's scent. Perhaps he stores things in the basement."

"No." She shook her head, certain. "It's more than that. I could smell, well, food and things. Like someone's actually living down there. Not like someone just passed through. I don't know how to explain it exactly."

He nodded. "I believe you. How big is the grate?"

"Big enough for me to get through in my Animagus form. I'll need you to remove the grate magically though. It's nearly rusted out and could be knocked out fairly easily, I think, but it would make some noise."

His face had hardened as she spoke, and she knew when he opened his mouth what he was going to say.

"Professor, if you say one word about this being too dangerous for delicate Miss Granger, I swear I'll scream! I think Harry is down there, and I'm going to find out, and then I'm going to get him out if it's the last thing I do. I will not do anything foolish or careless, but I will go down there."

"Just going down there qualifies as foolish and careless," he snapped, as best as he could snap in a whisper. "However, as it seems to be our only option at the moment, I'll not stop you from having a look. But if you confirm that Potter is there, do not – do not – attempt to get him out by yourself. Come and get me, and I'll go in and neutralize Finbar."


"Welcome to the grown-up table, Miss Granger."

Hermione nodded and changed back into a dog, slipping ahead of Snape as she made her way to the front of the house. She heard his approach behind her and indicated the grate with her paw. His wand appeared in midair and she heard a whispered spell before the bars melted away. The wand disappeared again and then he picked her up, leaning through the grate as far as his arm would reach before releasing her.

She still fell farther than was comfortable, landing with a soft "oomph" as a jolt of pain ran through her legs. She stood up and tested everything to make sure nothing was broken, and it was then that she realized that getting back out of the grate without assistance would be no small task. She filed that away as a problem for later.

She began exploring, thankful for the dim light that filtered through the series of grates. She was on an uneven earth floor and could see piles of debris scattered here and there. She ignored these for the moment; they could prove interesting later, but just then she wanted to find Harry. She put her nose to the ground and tried to sort out the various smells, wishing that she'd been a bloodhound instead of a terrier. She picked up a human scent to the right of where Snape had dropped her through the grate, and she followed it, becoming more excited as the smell grew stronger, only to come to a complete dead-end at a stone wall.

She sat back on her haunches and looked at the wall. It appeared to be perfectly solid, but she'd spent the last twenty-four hours in a cottage in which nothing was as it appeared to be, and at that moment she trusted her nose more than her eyes. Her nose was telling her that someone was behind that wall.

She transformed back into human form and slid her wand from her sleeve.


Well, of course, that had been a long shot.

Remembering Dumbledore's windowpanes, she began pressing the wall in various places, but the number of possible combinations was infinite, and she quickly became discouraged.

She went back to the grate, which now was nearly at eye level. "Professor?" she hissed.

"What is it?"

"I think there's a door hidden somewhere in the stone wall that makes up the foundation of the house. There's probably a password of some sort. I thought of destroying the wall, but that could bring the whole house down on our heads. Do you have any suggestions?"

"When he was Head of Slytherin, he used to prefer passwords that were to do with snakes. Try some of those, and in the meantime I'll see if I can think of a spell that might work. He'll have thought of the most obvious ones, of course, and guarded against them."

"That's what I thought too. OK, I'm off to name some snakes."

She made her way back to the wall, trying to remember the exact spot she had identified when she had been in her canine form. She could smell nothing but damp rot now, but she commenced talking to the portion of wall that seemed most familiar.

"Cobra? Runespoor? Ashwinder? Python? Basilisk?" Really this felt a little silly. Not to mention fruitless. She kept going, naming every snake she could think of and then moving on to words about snakes. "Venom…coils…eggs…"

"Miss Granger."

Please let him have a plan, she thought, making her way back to the small hole.

"I have something for you to try. It's classified as Dark Magic though I'm not entirely sure why. I suppose it's because Dark wizards used to use it to enter prisons and free their friends – it's one reason the Dementors were brought in to guard Azkaban."

"You know how I love history, Professor, but perhaps this lesson could wait until another time," she said testily.

"Just listen," he hissed. "It's important that you get this right if you're going to try it at all. You'll want to circle your wand counter-clockwise three times as you repeat the incantation. 'espasé meno.'"

"Espasé meno." She repeated it back to him and then went back to the wall, still repeating the incantation to herself to ensure that she remembered it. She raised her wand and pointed it at the wall before slowly moving it counter clockwise as he had told her to do. She repeated the incantation three times, once for every rotation of her wand, and then felt the earth floor start to vibrate as the stones just to the right of where she was standing rearranged themselves into a doorway, clattering a bit as they knocked against one another. She tensed at the noise and listened carefully for the sound of footsteps overhead.

Hearing nothing, she lit her wand and started down the steep stone staircase that was revealed. It got progressively colder and damper as she proceeded deeper into the earth, and the blackness was so profound that the light of her wand penetrated only slightly. She took each step carefully despite her eagerness. She was perhaps halfway down when the smell of the place assaulted her nostrils, and she fought the urge to gag, putting one hand over her mouth and nose.

When she finally reached the bottom, she cast her light around the room and cried out when she saw the figure on the bed. "Harry!" she exclaimed, but then she checked herself. Was it Harry?

His back was to her, and though he was approximately the right size and shape, she could make out short blonde hair…and was that anearring?

She held her wand right up to his face, which was grimy and shadowed with dark stubble. It was Harry, she realized with relief, and she reached and touched his cheek. It was clammy but warm enough to convince her that he lived. "Harry?" She shook his shoulder, concerned that he wasn't waking up. "Harry you've got to wake up! It's Hermione. I've come to get you out of here."

He stirred slightly but didn't open his eyes. She cast her wand around his prison and saw the remnants of food and human filth. She gagged, feeling the bile rise in her throat and fighting the urge to empty her stomach right there on the ground.

She didn't care what Snape had said. She had to get Harry out of there, and she had to do it right then. She raised her wand and castMobilicorpus, causing Harry to rise off the bed and dangle in midair. She directed him toward the stairway.

"Oops. Sorry!" she whispered, wincing as his head bumped the wall. She righted him just a little and proceeded up the steep passage. She had made it only four steps when a dark shadow appeared in the faint haze at the top.

"Well, well. What have we here?" a soft voice said. "It appears that someone is trying to make off with what is rightfully mine."

"He's not yours!" she exclaimed. "How dare you?"

Descending steps, and Finbar chuckled as he came into view. "Such bravery my dear – and so misplaced under the circumstances. I'm guessing you must be a Gryffindor. You're such a foolish lot. Now turn around and take young Harry back down to his bed. He's in no condition to be moved."

"What have you done to him?" she demanded. "Why won't he wake up?"

"He'll wake up in due time, don't you worry. He's of no use to me dead," the man said pleasantly. Then his voice hardened and he extended his wand, adding, "Now get back down those stairs."

Hermione obeyed, but in the effort of backing down, she lost her concentration and let Harry fall down the steps. "Harry!" She rushed down to check on him and was relieved when he sat up groggily and rubbed his head. "Harry, are you OK?"

""Mione?" he mumbled, confused.

"Yes, Harry. I'm here," she said, putting her arms around him and glaring at Finbar, who was now looming over them.

"Hermione, is it?" he asked pleasantly. "I've heard of you. You're Harry's little Mudblood friend. That's fine, then. I know exactly what to do with pretty little Mudbloods who meddle in things that don't concern them."

Hermione stiffened, but Harry seemed to drift back off on her shoulder. Apparently this wasn't going to be a team effort. She lowered him to the ground, at the same time trying to slip her wand back into her sleeve, hoping Finbar wouldn't be able to disarm her.

She sat back, looking at the man who held them captive. He was neat and well groomed, with close-cropped salt and pepper hair. She knew he must be older than Snape, but he didn't look it – at least not by much. He was wearing robes which disguised his form, but he was several inches shorter and appeared to be powerfully built. She would not overpower him without magic, that was for certain, and she didn't much like her chances with magic either – especially without Harry's help.

He had come on them so silently that she had little hope Snape had heard, but little hope was better than no hope at all, and she clung to it, silently imploring him to come to their rescue.

She held tight to Harry's limp form, watching warily as Finbar circled them, wand out. He laughed again, a sinister sound in the gloom, and said, "I'll be taking that, my dear. Expelliarmus." Her wand flew from her sleeve, and he caught it neatly, tucking it into his robes.

It occurred to her again that she made a very bad spy.

"Now, I can guess at what you're doing here, but I want to know how you managed to find us. You have a reputation as a bright girl, but it strains credulity to think that you tracked Harry here all by yourself. Who is helping you?"

"No one," she said, the lie coming easily. "I am, as you say, a bright girl."

He tsked and shook his head regretfully. "Lies will be punished, little Mudblood. Crucio."

She shrieked as every cell of her body exploded in pain. She fell beside Harry, the fiery agony ripping through her, making any thought beyond the desire for death impossible. Under any other circumstances, she would have been unconscious, but the curse didn't allow that relief. It ended as suddenly as it had begun, and she was left trembling and gasping on the ground, the dank, fetid chamber ringing with silence as her screams subsided.

"Now, I'll ask you again," Finbar said calmly, as if nothing had happened. "How, exactly, did you find us?"

She clenched her jaw and shook her head.

He advanced on her, pleasant no longer. "I have an ample store of Veritaserum upstairs, brave little Gryffindor. It would be a simple thing to get the truth. But I think this way is more interesting, don't you?" He brandished his wand. "You've had a taste of the Cruciatus curse, but I assure you that's not the only tool in my arsenal. I'll have you begging for Cruciatus by the time I'm finished with you, and the end result will certainly be the same. So do save us both the trouble, and tell me how you found us, and who else knows about it."

"I told you," she managed. "I came here by myself."

He sighed. "Crucio."

The pain seared through her again, but this time it stopped abruptly, and she was aware of twin beams of green light streaking through the dark cavern. She saw Finbar fall to the ground, and she struggled to sit up, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Harry was sitting up a few feet away from her, his eyes focussed and blazing, and in her peripheral vision she saw Snape shrugging off the invisibility cloak and advancing on them, wand out.

"Thank you," she managed.

"I should curse you myself for being stupid enough to come down here alone," he ground out, his normally smooth voice shaking slightly. "It took me ten minutes to find the passage down here once I'd realized what you'd done. Potter, are you all right?"

Harry looked at Snape in confusion, his eyes sliding back out of focus, and didn't answer. Snape held his lit wand up to Harry's face and examined his pupils carefully before turning back to Hermione. "I need to find out what he's been taking, but let's get you out of this infernal hole first."

"I'm not…I'm not sure I can walk," Hermione admitted in a small voice.

"You probably can't," he said. "I'll help you."

She had expected him to use magic, but instead he reached down and picked her up, struggling a little with the effort to stand, but managing to carry her up the steps and through the basement to a second set of stairs. They emerged on the first floor of the house, and he lowered her gently to an ancient sofa.

"You left Harry…"

"He's not going anywhere in the condition he's in, and Finbar can't hurt him now. I want to get you back to the cottage before I bring him up."

"But why? I want to see him." Her voice sounded vague to her own ears, and she wondered if she was even making sense.

Snape squatted down in front of the sofa, lowering himself to her eye level. "He's been given…something," he said, his voice gentle. "I don't know what. Until I do, you can't be alone with him."

She had no answer to that. Her brain simply wouldn't formulate one – couldn't wrestle its way through the pain and the confusion to consider the ramifications if Harry had already been dosed with the potion. She stared at Snape stupidly.

"I need to know if you think you can transform."

His tone was closer to his classroom voice, and she responded to it with a mental rally, considering his question before nodding her head. "I think so."

"Good. I'll take you to the cottage and come back here for Potter. But first…" He drew his wand and quickly countered the disapparition shield. "All right. Give it a try."

She closed her eyes and focussed every thought on her transformation, and when she opened them again, the world was once again black and white and this time viewed through the mop of brown hair. She'd forgotten the ponytail and couldn't have cared less. Her canine body was in as much pain as her human body had been, and she struggled to stand on the sofa. Snape reached for her, picking her up gently this time, taking care not to dangle her in midair, and she let her eyes drift shut as he tucked her safely in the crook of his arm. Seconds later they were inside Dumbledore's sunny cottage. He put her down in the large rocking chair and she transformed again, drawing her knees to her chest and curling up in the foetal position with a sigh.

"Do you need anything before I leave again?" he asked. "I don't want to leave Potter alone for long."

"I'm fine," she said, closing her eyes. "Just get Harry – and be careful."

Despite her worry over Harry, she drifted off to sleep, her body simply too exhausted to do anything else.


Snape Apparated back to Finbar's house, and despite the fact that he'd spent no more than a minute transporting Hermione to the cottage, he felt a flash of panic that something might have happened – that somehow, Potter might have disappeared again. He hurried back downstairs to the putrid chamber in which Potter had been imprisoned, thrusting his lit wand out before him. At the foot of the stairs, his former Potions Master stared up at him in empty condemnation, but he spared the dead man only a quick glance on his way to Potter, who was once again sleeping, slumped against the wall. He lifted the boy's eyelids again and checked to see that the pupils reacted to the light. They did, but Potter didn't awaken.

He then cast his wand around the small room. It appeared that Finbar had been bringing trays of food regularly, but Potter hadn't eaten much of what had been offered, and nothing had been cleared away. He saw several potions bottles and gathered them up, carrying them with him into the main portions of the house and then going back for Potter, casting Mobilicorpus and guiding the unconscious boy up to the same sofa he'd placed Hermione on a few minutes before.

He found the laboratory on the second floor and was slightly unnerved by how familiar it seemed. He had adopted Finbar's private laboratory as a seventeen-year-old schoolboy, and it was there, apparently, that he had developed his own feel for how a lab should be organized, without ever consciously realizing it. Now the room seemed like a connection between them – a reminder of how little, really, separated Neilus Finbar and Severus Snape.

He shook off the creeping feeling with irritation. He had no time to indulge in such foolishness, and at that moment the similarities between their labs worked to his advantage. He moved quickly, checking Finbar's stores and examining the work area carefully for signs that the potion he had conceived so many years ago had been completed.

He found none.

Circumstantial evidence, of course, but it was enough to make him sag against the workbench with relief, feeling absolved of some portion of his own guilt in this affair. He turned his attention to the bottles he had brought upstairs, sniffing the residue in the bottom. One was clearly a sleeping draught, while the other two appeared to be simple depressants. It took perhaps ten minutes in the lab to confirm his initial theories. The bastard had been priming Potter for the potion, keeping him confined in that filthy hole while giving him low dosage depressants to exacerbate his dependency on his captor. By the time the potion had been completed, Potter would have had a heightened susceptibility to its effects, and it probably would have only taken a few doses to leech out the boy's conscience, rendering him as dangerous as Voldemort had ever been. Even while repulsed at what the man had been trying to do, Snape felt a detached and clinical admiration for Finbar's methods. He had long since accepted that his professional interest in potions crossed the lines of social, even ethical acceptability, and he didn't let it bother him now.

He set the bottles aside. Time to wake up Potter.

He searched Finbar's stores until he found a stimulant and then went back downstairs and dribbled it into Potter's mouth until the boy woke, blinking against the sunlight blaring through the dingy windows. He looked dreadful - filthy and dazed, with that naked, vulnerable look that afflicts people who are usually seen wearing glasses. The several-days growth of dark beard contrasted with the ridiculous blond hair, which was greasy from the days in the clammy dungeon. He had gotten an earring as part of his disguise, and Snape noted that the fresh piercing was red and inflamed.


"Yes, Potter. I'm sure I'm just who you were hoping to see," Snape answered sarcastically. "How do you feel?"

Harry continued to stare at Snape, blinking myopically, but he didn't answer.

"I'm going to have another look around – see if I can find your wand and your glasses – and then I'm going to try to get you out of here. I saw a broom upstairs. Do you think you can hang on for two miles?"

Again, no response from Harry.

If civility wasn't getting through, perhaps it was time to try something else - something more familiar. "Well, you'd damn well better hang on," Snape snapped. "I'm counting on the Potter instinct kicking in. If you bring me down in the middle of that forest, I'll make you wish you were back in the cellar."

At that, Harry gave a small nod of understanding before slumping back against the sofa and closing his eyes.


It was an uncomfortable flight, and slow, with two grown men sharing an outdated broom, but it passed without incident and the dangers of the forest remained far below. The Potter instinct did actually seem to kick in - or perhaps it was the fresh air after days of deprivation - and Harry seemed more alert and in control on the broom than he had in the house, managing to keep his seat without leaning on Snape and interfering with the steering. They landed awkwardly by the pond, and Snape led Harry stumbling through the door of the cottage.

If Harry saw anything at all interesting about the cottage's interior, he gave no sign of it, maintaining the blank look he'd worn ever since Snape had awakened him. Snape cast a glance in Hermione's direction, but she was still asleep in the chair, curled up in a position that spoke of unconscious self-protection.

"There's a room for you upstairs," Snape said, keeping his voice deliberately low so as not to wake the sleeping girl. He put pressure between Harry's shoulder blades to guide him toward the staircase.

He led Harry to the bedroom next to Hermione's and performed a cleaning spell and a shaving spell to rid him of the surface layer of accumulated grime. A shower would have felt better, no doubt, but Harry didn't seem capable of addressing his own hygiene needs just then, and there were definite limits to the amount of assistance Snape was willing to offer. He did help the boy out of his shirt, examining his torso for any signs of injury or abuse and finding none. From Finbar's stores, he had taken an antimicrobial potion (one that didn't sting) and a sleeping draught, and he swiped Harry's infected ear with the former and pushed him toward the bed before dosing him with the latter. He hated to drug the boy again, but he had work to do back at Finbar's house, and he couldn't risk having Harry wake up while he was gone. He was almost certain that Harry hadn't been given the potion, but not quite certain enough to leave him alone and conscious in the cottage with Hermione. Some more time in Finbar's lab should provide him with the confirmation he needed on that score.

The draught worked instantly, and Harry's eyes slid out of focus and then drifted shut. Snape looked down at the sleeping boy…his godson.

Where had that thought come from?

He had always looked an unlikely hero to Snape, but he looked even less likely now. The saviour of the wizarding world had been frozen by the sleeping potion in what appeared to be an uncomfortable sprawl, his ribs jutting out prominently against his flesh and his trousers loose around his slim hips. Too thin, Snape noted, even before he'd gone several days with little food. His mouth hung open slightly and his breath came in deep shuddering gusts, like a child who had cried himself to sleep. He looked younger than his 17 years and completely defenceless, and yet somehow, he'd managed to do it again.

The Boy Who Lived.


Snape reached for the duvet and pulled it up over the sleeping hero, and then he quietly left the room.


Hermione was awakened by a hand on her shoulder, and she started violently in spite of the gentleness of his touch.

"Sorry," he said, and she nodded, taking a deep breath to get control of her nerves. He spoke again. "Come. I've gotten Potter tucked in. Now it's your turn."

"Harry. Is he…?"

"I think he's going to be fine," Snape said, placing just enough emphasis on the word think to make her understand that there were no guarantees.

She seemed to understand, and her eyes closed for a moment in relief before she made the effort to unfold herself from the chair. She was able to walk again with his assistance, and he guided her up the stairs and into her bed. "I've given Potter a sleeping draught. You don't need to worry about him wandering off. Do you want to take something too?"

"No. I don't think I'm capable of doing anything but sleeping," she said through a yawn.

"Fine then. Get some rest. I'm going to owl Dumbledore, and after that I'll be in and out this afternoon but will be here for supper. I'll check on you then."

She nodded and let her eyes drift shut. She didn't open them again for hours.


She was stiff and sore when she awoke from her nap, but she was able to get up and around without help. She went to the loo and then realized that she was thirsty, so she made her way slowly down the winding stairs and into the darkened solarium. She had slept the afternoon away.

"Go lie down," Snape growled, looking up from the book he hadn't been reading. "You're in no condition to be up."

"I'm fine," she insisted, "I need to…I need to…" She glanced around. She couldn't remember why she'd come downstairs. She could still feel the aftershocks of the curse sparking through her, tripping one nerve ending after another, and her mind was consumed with her concern for Harry.

Tea. She had been going to make tea. She headed for the kitchen, but her legs didn't want to cooperate and she faltered, grabbing for the back of a chair to steady herself. She was trembling and ashamed of the fact that she was trembling and wished very much that Snape would just go back to his book and leave her to collapse on the floor in peace.

He crossed the room in long, impatient strides. "Foolish girl," he snapped, catching her, steadying her, and then reaching down and picking her up in strong arms for the second time that day. He carried her to the huge rocking chair, and instead of dropping her unceremoniously into its depths, as she had expected, he lowered himself into the chair and settled her in his lap. "Foolish girl," he repeated, but softly this time, pressing her head into his shoulder and smoothing his hand over her tangle of curls.

She felt the trembling lessen as he began to rock slowly back and forth, continuing to stroke her hair. She relaxed into the soft cotton of his shirt and inhaled the masculine scent that had become a familiar part of her landscape over the last difficult days. It was the most unlikely of positions, and yet she was comfortable. Her muscles unclenched and she drifted off to sleep, lulled by the thudding heart beneath her cheek.


Snape didn't sleep, but he let his own eyes fall shut as he felt the girl in his arms relax and drift off. The only sounds were the slight creaking of the chair's rails and her steady breathing, which whispered across his chest in time with his own. He knew there was much to be done, much to be considered - not the least of which was why he was holding Hogwarts' Head Girl in his arms while she slept - but he stubbornly refused to think about any of it at that moment. He hadn't felt this peaceful in…well, he wasn't sure he could remember a time. The girl was sleeping – getting much-needed rest. Potter was alive and appeared physically unharmed, and for the moment, at least, there was no darkness looming over him. After the day he'd had, what was it hurting if Snape found a few moments of peace in the silent cottage with Hermione Granger in his arms? Who would even know?

He opened his eyes at the sound of a gently cleared throat. Dumbledore. Of course. He instinctively tightened his hold on Hermione as if Dumbledore might wrest her away. It was not, he realized, entirely out of the question.

"Headmaster," he said, keeping his voice to a near whisper.

Dumbledore took the hint. "Severus," he replied, his voice just as low. "How is she?"

"Exhausted and still in pain. Cruciatus."

The Headmaster winced and shook his head. "I had hoped to leave you all here until we see how Harry is, but perhaps we should get her to Poppy."

Hermione lifted her head and looked at the Headmaster with tired eyes. "No, sir," she said. "I want to stay here, if that's all right."

Dumbledore nodded and gave her a sad smile. "It's fine, my dear. I'll have Madam Pomfrey prepare a potion that should help with any lingering effects. Severus is perfectly capable of administering it." He paused and then went on. "I'll need to hear the whole story, of course. There will be an enquiry."

Snape sighed. "You'll get the whole story, Albus, but not tonight, if you please. We'll be able to report more coherently once we've had a little rest."

"Tomorrow then," Dumbledore said. "I'll join you for lunch. I've reopened the Floo, and you can contact me that way if you need me in the interval."

"Fine." It occurred to him then that he really shouldn't be holding the girl, and he shifted and began to unseat her.

"No," Dumbledore said gently. "Stay as you are. Miss Granger looks far too comfortable to be moved. Until tomorrow, children." He was gone before they had a chance to say goodbye.

Hermione's head sank back into Snape's shirtfront. "I should get up," she mumbled. "You must be uncomfortable."

"Not at all. I've long since lost all feeling in my legs," he teased.

She chuckled, and he marvelled at the fact that he felt the gentle vibrations of her laughter before his ears even registered the sound. She didn't move, and he didn't encourage her to do so. Instead his hand went hesitantly back to her hair, since that had seemed to relax her before, and he slowly raked long fingers through the curly strands until her breathing became regular again, and he felt her relax into sleep.

The Buried Life

A Harry Potter Story
by Kalina Lea

Part 17 of 27

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